Hmong History

By Neng Yang,etc., 1995

Approximately 5000 years ago, the ancestors of the Hmong lived along the lower reaches of the Yellow River in China. Wars and persecution from other ethnic groups forced the Hmong to flee their homelands southward to Indochina. They apparently left China at the end of the 19th century to settle near the tops of mountains in Indochina: Laos, Thailand, Burma, and Vietnam.

The road from China to Indochina was long and difficult. The journey of the Hmong people resulted in hardship, changes, starvation, and death. Many Hmong faced punishment and separation. Hmong migrants had to walk over steep mountains and through narrow gorges. Many people, particularly the elders, could not survive the long trek. They died and were buried along the way. Some children were exchanged for millet cakes. In other cases, even wives were traded for food. This was the "Trail of Tears" for the Hmong people. Despite these hardships, many Hmong survived and reached their destinations.

From 1960-1975, the Hmong were strong fighters for the United States against the Communists. For 15 years, life for the Hmong was not the same. Families lost members, wives lived without husbands, and children had no uncles or aunts. An estimated 25-30,000 Hmong died during the war as a result of supporting the United States.

When the United States pulled their troops from Southeast Asia in 1975, Laos fell to the Communists. The Hmong became a favorite target for North Vietnam and the Pathet Lao. The fields and houses of any pro-American Hmong villages were burned, the animals slaughtered, and the people chased down and killed.

Many Hmong fled through the jungles of Laos and crossed the Mekong River to Thailand. They waited in refugee camps to be placed in countries that would agree to take them in. The United States, Canada, and France were among the first choices for the Hmong. The largest Hmong populations in the United States are concentrated in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Today, the Hmong no longer speak the same dialect, wear the same clothes or share the same way of life. They have adapted to different living environments and engage in different types of farming. They live in remote areas away from civilization in order to preserve their peace and freedom, but very often, their lives are disturbed by wars, which have forced them to take sides to defend their homes and families.

Theories of Hmong Origin

(from Paoze Thao, Mong Education at the Crossroads. New York: University Press of America, 1999, pp. 29-34).

1. Theory of Mesopotemian Origin: This theory holds that Hmong people originated in the Mesopotemia region which encompasses present-day Iraq and Syria in the Middle East. This theory was introduced by Savina, a French Catholic Missionary who studied Hmong culture and history in Laos and Vietnam. After several years of research, Savina argued that the ancestors of the Hmong were a subgroup of the Turanians, an ethnic group forced out of the region by the Aryans. According to this theory, the ancestors of the Hmong then migrated from central Asia through Turkestan, Russia, Siberia, Mongolia, Manchuria, Honan, Tibet, and the plains of Yellow River.

2. Theory of Ultimate Southern Origin: This theory was advanced by Eickstedt, an expert on Hmong history. This theory holds that the Hmong originated in southwestern China or present-day Myanmar (Burma) and Tibet before migrating further into China as far north as the Yellow River.

3. The Theory of China Origin: Many experts on Hmong history argue that the Hmong were in China before the Chinese because it is the Chinese who mention the Hmong in their history as the "Miao". The Hmong had already occupied the Yellow River basin by the twenty-seventh century B.C. The historian Geddes estimates that the Hmong were driven off the plains of the Yellow River between 2700 and 2300 B.C. The theory of China origin probably has the most support among historians.

4. The Theory of Russian Origin: The theory of Russian origin was advanced by Larteguy who researched the Hmong in Southeast Asia in the 1950s. Larteguy argued that the Hmong at one time had occupied the huge Siberian plain around Lake Baikal located in Russia north of Mongolia.

From Paoze Thao, Mong Education at the Crossroads. New York: University Press of America, 1999, p. 28).

2700 B.C.: The Hmong occupy the Yellow River region of China

206 B.C. - 220 A.D.: The Hmong were forced out to the Kansu region of China as a political buffer by the Chou Dynasty.

618 A.D.: The Tang Dynasty reconquered the Hmong territories in present-day China.

907 A.D.: Sung Dynasty

1360-1644 A.D.: Ming Dynasty

1644-1911 A.D.: Manchu Dynasty

1810-1820 A.D.: Many Hmong migrate out of China to Laos by way of Vietnam, Burma, and Thailand.

1917-1922: The Mad War (Rog Phimbab) led by Pa Chay against the French.

1941-1945: World War II (Known to the Hmong as Rog Yivpoos - the "Japanese War"

1946: The Beginning of the Cold War.

1963-1975: The Vietnam War and the U.S. Secret Army in Laos.

1975: Hmong Refugees move to Thailand.

1976 to Present Time: Hmong refugees move to the United States, France, Australia, French Guyana, and Canada.

1995-2004: Hmong-American secondary migration from California's Central Valley to Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Carolina and other states

December 2003: U.S. State Department begins to start processing for resettlement 15,000 Hmong refugees in the Wat Thamkrabok refugee cam in Thailand